Published November 17, 2023
Spikers enjoyed 3-1 win over a familiar foe
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE—It was a game of two familiar opponents in an almost-overly familiar situation on Nov. 7 when Melrose High volleyball took on old foe Billerica in the second round of Div. 2 tournament. For Billerica, the memories of two straight playoff losses to Melrose may have haunted. For Melrose, they were hosting a respected opponent who can’t be beaten easily.
But history repeated itself when No. 6 Melrose bested the No. 10 seed Indians (17-6) by a score of 3-1 in gripping sets of 24-26, 25-17, 25-12, 26-24. And like years past, the effort wasn’t an easy one and was nearly pushed 5 sets. The win advanced Melrose to face unbeaten No. 3 seed Canton (see accompanying article)
As tenacious as Billerica were, they ultimately were no match for the offensive firepower of Melrose hitters and lights out back row defense. Led by captains with career high stats, Melrose saw tremendous display from hitter Sadie Jaggers, who had a walloping 25 kills, setter Leah Fowke with a tireless 45 assists and acrobatic libero Grace Gentile who tallied had 22 digs and 33 serve receives. Hitters Sabine Wenzel and Manon Marchais also had strong games with some well-timed kills in key moments. And clutch 4th set serving by Maggie Turner and Grace Gentile essentially clinched the 3-1 win.
Melrose head coach Scott Celli commented on his captains overcoming the tough blocking of the Indians. “Our captains, Grace, Leah and Sadie worked hard out there and played like All Stars they are.”
Melrose fell in the first set against a very hyped-up Indian team and crowd whose volume alone raised tension. Melrose kicked off their scoring with a Caroline Hirogneq kill followed by one each from Sabine Wenzel and Sadie Jaggers. Gentile and Fowke had two service points and the two teams swapped ties at points 5, 10, and 12. Some well-timed kills by Emme Boyer and Manon Marchais kept things even but Billerica had some kills that chipped away at Melrose’s 22-20 lead. And despite a nice kill by Boyer at point 24, the Indians grabbed a quick 26-24 set win.
“Set 1 we didn’t block or serve that well,” noted Celli. “We definitely dominated the rest of the match thanks to our defense in the back row is the best it’s been all season. With Grace, Gigi, Sadie and Maggie. If we are able to get hands on the ball up front it makes our job easier and we’re a much different team.”
Set two saw Melrose flip the script. Melrose benefited from Jaggers kills and a great service run from Leah Fowke. Wenzel came up big with two straight kills to give Melrose a 12-9 lead. A back row kill by Jaggers and a dig-kill and ace from Gentile gave Melrose a 17-12 lead. Marchais shined in the set with two kills and an ace to close things out, 25-17.
With the game tied at 1-1, Melrose turned simply dominating in set three. Sadie Jaggers had 7 kills in the set and the back row smooth from Gentile, Gigi Albuja and Maggie Turner. While Jaggers and Wenzel pounded the floor with kills, Marchais closed the set 25-12, with a block kill that gave Melrose a 2-1 edge.
“We went at them in that stretch, they just make a lot of blocks and plays so credit to them. Defensively they made a lot of good plays on their side,” noted Celli.
The fourth set first looked easy. Melrose broke a 10-10 tie on four straight kills from Wenzel and aces by Maggie Turner and Grace Gentile, to match Jagger kills that stretched the lead from 12-10 to 22-11. The Indians put the fear of God into Melrose on the next 12 points, staging a remarkable comeback to tie in on 24-24 (mostly on Melrose blips) before a Jaggers kill gave Melrose a critical 25-24 lead and a Billerica missed hit finished the job 26-24. Victory Melrose.
The team’s seniors and junior captain were on hand after the game to soak it in. Beating a familiar opponent like Billerica never gets old.
Senior hitter Manon Marchais knew the stakes involved. “The last two seasons’ games against them were intense so we knew that this playoff game wouldn’t be easy.”
Junior captain Leah Fowke noted what the team did right. “It all comes from the first pass and I think our serving well helped tonight too.”
Senior captain Grace Gentile thought staying calm was crucial. “We just knew we had to stay focused and serve well and let our hitters do the job.”
And senior capt. Sadie Jaggers couldn’t think of a better way to close our her home games at MHS. “Having a big home crowd helped momentum and kept us motivated when we were down a set.”
As for Coach Celli, he was thrilled at the idea of fighting for a sectional title. “There’s no quit in this team. We found a way to get those last two set and a well-earned victory. Now get to play for another Sectional Championship.”